Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Information Literacy Is Power

This news article reminds me of a short story by Isaac Asimov I once read, The Feeling of Power. It's a science fiction story set in a futuristic society where everyone carries pocket computers (this was written in 1957, by the way). People have become so dependent on their computers to do all their thinking, that they've forgotten how to do math--or even that it's possible to figure sums "by hand." The protagonist rediscovers how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and is thought of as a secret military weapon.

Now we're getting stories in the real world that Google and search engines have become so user friendly that students are losing the ability to do their own research. Is Asimov's vision far behind?
Searching for Dummies

In December, the National Center for Education Statistics published a report on adult literacy revealing that the number of college graduates able to interpret complex texts proficiently had dropped since 1992 from 40 percent to 31 percent. As Mark S. Schneider, the center's commissioner of education statistics, put it, "What's disturbing is that the assessment is not designed to test your understanding of Proust, but to test your ability to read labels."

The Higher Education Supplement of The Times of London reports that a British survey also finds that the ability of undergraduates to read critically and write cogently has fallen significantly since 1992. Students are not just more poorly prepared, a majority of queried faculty members believe, but less teachable.

While some blame reality television, MP3 players, cellphones or the multitasking that juggles them all, the big change has been the Web. Beginning in the early 1990's, schools, libraries and governments embraced the Internet as the long promised portal to information access for all. And at the heart of their hopes for a cultural and educational breakthrough were superbly efficient search engines like Google and those of its rivals Yahoo and MSN. The new search engines not only find more, they are more likely to present usable information on the first screen. . . .
Of course, there's no point in being alarmist, but I relate to the educators quoted in the article from my days at the high school. It was hard enough convincing the teachers that their students needed to be taught how to research, not just given research assignments, much less the students. Everyone just kind of assumed any information could be easily located and if it couldn't it wasn't worth the effort. Ideas like problem solving and critical thinking were foreign concepts.


Leelu said...

I really wonder about teachers, sometimes. And it hurts my widdle bwain.

Hadrian said...

To avoid pissing everybody off, I'll refraim from saying anything about video games.

Hadrian said...

refrain, with an "n"... damn typos.

Degolar said...

I'm not a gamer. It doesn't piss me off when you remain an individual and don't jump on the bandwagon.